Matt Heath: What fish and chips tell us about modern society


What do you buy at your fish and chip shop?

It’s a question that provides deep insights into how Kiwis discuss issues in the social media era. The ramifications go right to the top. Last week a debate around chips elicited a firm response from an ex-All Black captain.

The Matt and Jerry Breakfast show on Radio Hauraki explores the four quintessential examples of given subjects. Take Kiwi one-hit wonders.

After thousands of votes and hours of debate, the four pillars were deemed Poi E by the Pātea Māori Club, How Bizarre by OMC, Trippin’ by Push Push and For Today by The Netherworld Dancing Toys.

The four pillars of breakfast cereals were Weetbix, Cornflakes, Nutri-Grain and Coco Pops.

Chocolate bars were more controversial. Peanut Slab, Moro, Crunchie and Perky Nana. The Picnic and Luxury Flake brigade really fired up over that one.

Contentious as these outcomes were, at least, the playing field was easily laid out. When it came to fish and chips, the discussion didn’t even begin.

It wasn’t from a lack of interest – more votes piled into Hauraki than any topic in the 55-year history of the station.

There was huge support for hotdogs, pineapple rings, potato fritters, battered sausages, spring rolls, chicken nuggets and crab sticks.

The Dunedin contingent pushed hard for the chop suey pattie and the deep-fried Mars Bar.

Sadly a disagreement on the fundamentals made it impossible to move forward. I argued that the four pillars of fish and chips could not include chips themselves.

I thought this could set a dangerous precedent. Would you include rice in the four pillars of Indian cuisine? I don’t think anyone would be happy with rice, poppadom, naan and butter chicken as pillars.

Would you include toast in the four pillars of spreads?

Jeremy Wells believed the four pillars of fish and chips are fish, chips, hotdog and hamburger.

It was like Mike Hosking interviewing Jacinda Ardern. Zero common ground to even start a conversation – we need to be in the same theatre of war to fight.

It’s symptomatic of a wider problem with discourse today. We are being polarised by social media algorithms that promote emotional responses over calm, logical ones. We are so far apart that we can’t even agree on the basic facts and principles.

Luckily for the four pillars of fish and chips, a higher power intervened. Former All Blacks captain Kieran Read sent me this message from Japan.

“Matt, I understand you are passionate about chips not being included in the four pillars of fish and chips. Ask yourself, is that passion born of reason or stubbornness?

“I fear you may have become entrenched in your position. You are worried if you take a step back, you will seem weak. There is no shame in conceding ground when you are shown to be wrong. Taking on new opinions and being willing to move on issues is a sign of strength.

“Take a breath, step back and remove your ego from the equation. I think you will see chips have to be one of the four pillars of fish and chips. They are on the menu. It is surely chips, fish, hotdog, burger.

“The four pillars of successful honest discussion must be truth, logic, arguing in good faith and listening with an open mind.”

The great man’s words really touched me. It became immediately clear the world would be a much better place if people took a Kieran Read-style approach to interactions.

I reached out to Jeremy Wells and took a step back. Chips would be included in the four pillars of fish and chips. I lost the argument but gained the high ground.

If more New Zealanders were willing to engage in reasoned good-faith debate, maybe we could sort out some of the big problems facing our country.

After a week of discussion, hundreds of phone calls and thousands of texts, the four pillars of fish and chips have been locked in. Fish, chips, hotdog and tomato sauce.

The last one doesn’t seem right to me, but I’m not going to throw my toys. That’s a sauce. Could we not get something sweet like jam wrap in there?

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